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Project R53, A Collection Adventure

Ah yes, nothing like buying a car sight unseen, and then choosing to fly across the country and drive said car back again. Yup, I’ve done it again.

Much like the BMW E91, I found a car on Trademe that I liked, but it happened to be a few hundred KM away from home. This even came from basically the same place as the E91.

The details of the purchase are on the cars page, but this is the story of the adventure.

The Plan

Having put a deposit on the car, it was time to book flights. I thought since last time I picked the car up and then just made a straight shot home again the same day, it might be nice to take my Wife with me and make a weekend of it.

Flights were sorted for the both of us, at what I consider a very reasonable price for a short notice flight post-Covid.

The plan was to drive the daily to the airport, fly to Hamilton, have the seller meet us at the airport, buy the car, drive it down to Taupo and stay there the night. The next day, continue on back to Wellington, pick the daily up from the airport, drive both home and bask in the glow to a trip well done.

The plan quickly changed. Why not go somewhere different, somewhere we haven’t been yet, like Napier? Hmmm.


Ugh, 5:30am on a Saturday should be illegal. It’s still dark. It’s also foggy outside, which doesn’t bode well for flying. We get ready and head to the airport.

Flights are still coming in and out, and the fog isn’t too bad. Ours is delayed by about 10 minutes.

We then proceed to get onto a narrow tin can packed with other people. If we get Covid, at least we know where it came from. Not the greatest social distancing.

On the plus side, once we shot up and above the low cloud it was quite a nice morning out

After an hour and a bit in the air, we arrive at Hamilton airport. We meet the seller outside and agree to follow him 10-15 minutes to his place. Jump in the Mini, take off, and the Tyre Pressure Monitoring System light comes on within seconds of leaving the airport. Not this again.

We make it to his place OK, shoot the shit for a bit, do the deal and head off. The tyres look OK, but the warning is still there.

A quick stop at a petrol station on the way out confirms its a false trigger, as all the pressures are fine. Nothing to see here. I gas up and reset the TPMS. The light stays off for the rest of the trip.

At the petrol station we also do one other thing. Change the wipers. The seller had a copy of a PPI done by a local BMW dealer, which advised the wipers were less than effective. This was proven on the drive to the sellers house, where although they cleared the glass, they also made an almighty racket.

We had been having a fair bit of rain recently and the forecast for the country was to bucket down all weekend (something like a months rain in one weekend). With this in mind I purchased some replacement wipers from work before I left on Friday, and packed them in the carry on ready for the trip. My Wife looked at me weird, but I had the last laugh because it was a life saver.

Even with the new wipers, visibility was low (or so I thought at the time, it got much worse later on)

The rear was even worse. I didn’t bring a spare for that, and every time you wiped it would clear for about 30 seconds, and then be useless again

As seems to be my tradition now, we stopped at Tirau BP for an early lunch. This was the first chance I got to actually look around the car. It looked quite nice. The colour suits it. Much nicer than a black or grey.

We continued on, towards Taupo. Although we were going to Napier now, we were going via Taupo as this was meant to be our lunch stop, but we were running behind so had the early lunch at Tirau instead. Going via Taupo gives us proper roads to Napier too, not small backroads.

It wasn’t all rosy though. Other than seeing this sweet, surreal, super bright and sharp rainbow that touched the ground next to the road, issues were starting to appear.

The worst issue was that the car was starting to shudder when the engine was put under load, like going up hills, or passing. This started (or I started to notice it) about 100km into the trip. The car was still running and driving fine otherwise and cruised OK.

We made it to Taupo OK, and had a quick rest break there before heading on through the Napier-Taupo State Highway to Napier. We took it fairly easy over here due to the constant rain, and I’m glad we did, that road has claimed a few lives recently.

There was one surprise though. Somewhere in the middle, we almost shot right on by a nondescript sign that just said “Scenic Lookout”. Instead, we jammed on the brakes and went for a look.

Little did we know this was the Waipunga Falls, a hidden gem in the middle of nowhere. NZ can be quite stunning. If only people would stop dumping rubbish there, you scummy bastards.

This stop also gave me a chance to take some more photos of the car. The sky was looking pretty moody.

It was here that I noticed just how much carbon was building up on the back of the car. Obviously the misfire was throwing some unburnt fuel around. The shudder from the misfire was slowly getting worse, but wasn’t otherwise impacting the ability of the car to continue.

We got into Napier late afternoon. Still in one piece, with a slightly unhappy car, but still chugging along.

After finding, and checking in to our AirBNB we went out for dinner. This was about three shades of frustrating chaos for various reasons, but we eventually had a lovely dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the harbour. Part of the frustration was trying to use Google Maps to navigate in the pouring rain, in the dark, with some of the worst headlights I have ever had the pleasure of using. These are JDM As Fk Bellof HID bulbs, which must be about 9000k temperature as they are almost solid blue, and project little to no light more than a foot in front of the car. If I didn’t have fog lights, I would’ve been out of luck. It’s hard to capture just how blue they are.

After a lovely dinner of some tasty, hot, Mexican food we settled in for the night.


Not a bad view from our AirBNB

But now was time for the hard yards. 4 hours of driving to get to Wellington, plus another hour or so to get back to the airport. Not many places in the middle to stop until you get about half way.

We pushed on, choosing (for better or worse) to leave Napier via State Highway 50, instead of following SH2 through Hastings. This road was an adventure. The rain was so hard the wipers could barely keep up on full speed, and the surface water was quite deep at times. Thankfully that only kept up for a few KM, but the rest was still in heavy mist and periods of rain.

SH50 is a long, twisty, winding road that is a fairly decent drive as long as you get a straight shot. Its when you get slow “brake for every bend” drivers in front of you that its starts to drag on a bit, until there is a safe space to chop a couple of gears and listen to the whine of the supercharger as you fly on by them. The Mini took all the corners in its stride without so much as a second look.

Passing was starting to cause more and more concern though as the shuddering was getting worse, to the point I was wondering if it were a stuffed axle or CV.

Eventually, we met back up with SH2, and kept heading on towards Woodville.

Woodville is where we had a bit of a whoopsie. Instead of turning off towards Masterton to continue down SH2, we missed that turn off and didn’t realise until we were already on Saddle Road, a very narrow, steep and twisty road that goes over the hill to Palmerston North. This is now the main road since the Manawatu Gorge has been closed due to risk of landslides (what a shame, it was a great road).

Oh well, we’re here now!

Once again, the Mini handled all the turns like a champ, and the torquey little motor hauled us up the hills with no issue, other than the annoying shudder under load.

About halfway over Saddle Road we came across the Te Apiti Wind Farm. Quite a stunning place, with a 230 foot wind turbine right in the middle of the car park. Not easy to look at if you get vertigo, but a very cool place.

Just over the other side of Saddle Road we traded the rain for high winds instead. I said to my Wife earlier in the trip that I would take the rain over high winds any day, well, looks like we get both.

During one particularly windy section, which the Mini handled very well, much better than the Honda would, we came across an accident which I can only presume was due to the truck being pushed off the road by the wind. Emergency services were already in attendance (unlike the accident I came across driving the E91 back).

That’s really the end of the excitement. We more or less had a straight shot through from Palmy to the Airport in Wellington, except for the usual congestion around Otaki (which showed the Mini starting to idle a bit lumpy at times).

We finally made it home, 780km after picking the car up, and the only casualty appears to be RH hydraulic engine mount, which in the last few KM had decided it was done, and dumped all its fluid onto the frame rail.

So, what do I think of the Mini?

Well, after checking the coil and finding the terminals corroded, cleaning them, resetting the ECU and driving it, I’m impressed with the power. I thought it was rapid before, but now it’s even sharper off the line. Its a shame I didn’t have this power and response for the rest of the trip, but oh well. The shudder is also 90% gone, proving it was a misfire all along.

The handling is a little strange. The car kinda pivots on its axis when you turn, which I remember from the R50 Cooper, but there is a little more body roll than I expected. Might be the difference between the 16s on this and the 17s on the Cooper.

The condition isn’t quite what I was expecting. It’s nice from the outside, but the inside has seen some shit. A couple of the boot lining trims are held in with wood screws, the boot light is missing, some screws are missing in things like the door cards, and various other things aren’t quite right.

Obviously there are mechanical issues too, like the misfire, the engine mount, and the control arm bushes are stuffed too. All common Mini stuff, but annoying none the less. The control arm bushes were mentioned in the PPI as “cracked”, but they are ruined. The misfire also shouldn’t be a surprise, the plugs look old as hell, as do the coil and leads. New parts for all these items are en route now.

Despite the misfire, we somehow still managed to average 8.5L/100KM (27.5MPG) on the trip. Im very impressed by that.

I’m undecided about this car. I was so disappointed by its condition last night that I was ready to just fix the mechanical issues, give it a clean and sell it on, but I’m thinking I should make the most of what I have and give the car the love it deserves. Its low KM (128,000KM), a good colour, facelift, and it’s a good solid car under it all, I hope.

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Charles John
Charles John
3 years ago

The perfect accompaniment to the start of my working day coupled with a decent scone. Excellent read (and quite a rabbit hole going through your various links to other articles)